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Colo. Advances Bullying Bill

Colorado Rep. Don Lee, the Republican sponsor of the bill, proposed it in the House Education Committee on March 21, where it passed by a vote of six to five. The bill is scheduled to be debated in the Colorado House next week.

He said the proposed legislation was spurred by the Columbine shooting two years ago, which occurred in his district and left 15 students dead.

He said the bill is intended to ensure that each school is trying to prevent bullying but acknowledged that it is only the first step in solving a larger problem.

"(The bill) requires school districts to adopt a policy addressing bullying," Lee said.

He added that the bill does not outline specific punishments for antagonistic students but does provide a working definition of the targeted behavior.

Lee said the bill defines bullying as "any act, physical or verbal, that is intended to cause distress to another student."

Julie Thomerson, a researcher for the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan think tank that conducts research for legislators nationwide, said despite the appeal to prevent school violence, it is not an issue with heavy support.

"Most policies that legislatures consider about school violence tend to be controversial," she said.

Lee attributes most controversy to a fear of the state overstepping its bounds.

"The concerns are mostly about the state getting involved in something as specific as student behavior," he said.

Despite some public opposition, Lee said he foresees very few legislators voting against the bill.

"I expect it to make it to the governor's desk," he said. "And he's already agreed to sign it."

Rep. Peter Groff, a Democrat on the Education Committee who voted for the bill, said he feels opposition to the bill was avoided by having a Republican propose it. "We only passed it six to five because we got the sponsor's vote and one other Republican," he said. He said that had a Democrat proposed the bill, it would not have made it out of the committee.

Thomerson also said bullying is only one factor in the violence equation. "State legislatures recognize that school violence is a many-faceted problem, but they're also recognizing that bullying may be something that causes this lethal violence."

Dr. David Riddle, a Chapel Hill clinical psychologist, also said he thinks the problem is caused by multiple factors.

"If bullying is a part of an overall conduct, it increases the chances that a person will act violently," he said. "But the factor that's most prominent is kids that have been violent in other situations."

Groff said many legislators fail to realize that today's society bombards students with images of violence, making them more prone to violent reactions.

But Riddle said legislation cannot prevent bullying. "I think that's part of human nature," he said. "I don't think it should happen, but it does."

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